Ignore Ward's confession, defense lawyers urge in slaying retrial

February 04, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

Lawyers for Bernard L. Ward asked an Anne Arundel Circuit Court jury yesterday to concentrate not what their client admitted to police about the murder of Eddie Brewer, but on what he could not remember a month after the killing.

Mr. Ward is being retried after his conviction in a 5-year-old slaying was overturned.

Testimony yesterday centered on Mr. Ward's confession to Florida sheriff's detectives after his arrest in Tallahassee a month after the killing. He told Leon County detectives that he had met Mr. Brewer in a Baltimore bar and rode with him and another man to a secluded parking lot, where the unidentified man stabbed Mr. Brewer.

"I guess he finished him there, and then I ran," Mr. Ward told police in a statement taped Dec. 16, 1988.

Prosecutors used a transcript of the statement to show that Mr. Ward knew details about the slaying that only the killer would know.

Leon County Sheriff's Detective Brendan Coughlin testified that Mr. Ward knew the victim had been stabbed in the chest and stomach, that the killing occurred after 10 p.m. and that the victim had been driving the car in which he was killed.

" 'I seen this black person lunge at the person driving the car. I heard that person give out a yell or a moan, and I ran,' " the detective said, quoting from the transcript.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Fred Heyman, Detective Coughlin acknowledged that Mr. Ward got the day of the week of the killing and the color of the victim's white Camaro wrong. Mr. Ward said that the Tuesday night slaying occurred on a Friday night and that the car was beige.

Mr. Ward didn't mention that the car was burned and said that he didn't know the location of the killing or the make of the victim's car, the detective said.

Mr. Ward later tried to tell police that the confession was "a lie anyway," Detective Coughlin testified.

Mr. Brewer's body was found in an abandoned house along Crain Highway on Dec. 12, 1988, about a month after he was killed.

Florida police tracked down Mr. Ward at his father-in-law's trailer after three witnesses identified him from a stack of police photographs and said they had seen him near the victim's burning car.

Mr. Ward, 33, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 1989, cutting short his trial, after prosecutors offered him a life sentence instead of life without parole.

He won a retrial in November 1992, when an Anne Arundel Circuit Court judge ruled that Mr. Ward was denied his constitutional rights when he decided to plead guilty, because his counsel at the time was incompetent.

Mr. Ward's new lawyers say that witnesses who placed Mr. Ward at the scene are mistaken and that they will produce at least four witnesses to testify that the defendant was in Florida at the time of the killing. They also are arguing that their client's statement to police was coerced.

In three days of testimony, the prosecution's case has focused on the police statements and on the testimony of Bruce K. Burrier, a 40-year-old taxi driver who said he was at his job as a convenience store clerk near the car fire and had sold Mr. Ward the gasoline can later found at the scene.

Assistant State's Attorneys William Mulford and Ronald Naditch said yesterday that they are still considering whether to call as witnesses Lea Beth, a Baltimore bartender, and Ernest Bensley, a disc jockey. The two told police that Mr. Brewer and Mr. Ward knew each other, but then retracted their statements.

Mr. Ward has denied knowing the victim.

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